Arlington, VA

Law enforcement officers from around Northern Virginia will convene in Arlington later this month for a training exercise simulating a terrorist attack or some sort of other “active violence incident.”

County police announced this week that the training will take place on Sunday, March 31. But they declined to release any details about its timing or location, except to say that it would involve “multiple locations throughout the region.”

“The public should not experience any significant impacts to traffic routes or public facilities,” police wrote in a news release. “Members of the public will see an increase in public safety vehicles and law enforcement officers in the area but should not be alarmed or concerned as they will be part of the exercise play.”

Police say the exercise will “provide participants with an opportunity to assess capabilities, plans, policies and procedures outlined in a recently developed Complex Coordinated Attack Traffic Management Plan.”

“It will focus on decision-making, coordination and integration with other organizations during an active violence incident,” police said.

The Northern Virginia Emergency Response System, a joint effort to prepare for emergencies by the area’s law enforcement agency is sponsoring the exercise. Funding will come from the Department of Homeland Security.

The following agencies plan to participate:

  • Arlington County Police Department
  • Fairfax County Police Department
  • Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority
  • Metro Transit Police Department
  • Virginia Department of Transportation
  • Virginia State Police
  • U.S. Park Police

Police say that neither members of the public nor the media will be allowed access to the exercise and its participants.

Arlington has been the site of several other terrorism, or mass violence, exercises in past years as well.

File photo

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(Updated at 10:45 p.m.) About a year ago at this time, Arlington looked to be in serious trouble down in Richmond.

In mid-March 2018, county officials faced the decidedly unpleasant prospect that they’d come out on the losing end of a bruising legislative battle with two local golf and country clubs.

One of the county’s foremost foes in the General Assembly had engineered the passage of legislation to slash the clubs’ tax bills, potentially pulling more than a million dollars in annual tax revenue out of the county’s coffers.

Arlington had spent years tangling with the clubs, which count among their members local luminaries ranging from retired generals to former presidents, arguing over how to tax those properties. Yet the legislation from Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District) would’ve bypassed the local dispute entirely, and it was headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.

That meant that Arlington’s only hope of stopping the bill was convincing the governor to strike it down with his veto pen.

In those days, long before evidence of Northam’s racist medical school yearbook photos had surfaced, the Democrat was well-liked in the county. He’d raised plenty of cash from Arlingtonians in his successful campaign just a year before, and had won endorsements in his primary contest from many of the county’s elected officials.

Yet the situation still looked dire enough that the County Board felt compelled to take more drastic steps to win Northam to their side. The county shelled out $22,500 to hire a well-connected lobbying firm for just a few weeks, embarking on a frenetic campaign to pressure the governor and state lawmakers and launch a media blitz to broadcast the county’s position in both local and national outlets.

“It became apparent to all of us that every Arlingtonian had something at stake here,” then-County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “At a time when we were making excruciating decisions about our own budget, the idea that you would take more than million dollars and put it toward something that wasn’t a priority for anyone here was so frustrating.”

That push was ultimately successful — Northam vetoed the bill last April, and the county struck a deal with the clubs to end this fight a few weeks later.

An ARLnow investigation of the events of those crucial weeks in spring 2018 sheds a bit more light on how the county won that veto, and how business is conducted down in the state capitol. This account is based both on interviews with many people close to the debate and a trove of emails and documents released via a public records request (and published now in the spirit of “National Sunshine Week,” a nationwide initiative designed to highlight the value of freedom of information laws).

Crucially, ARLnow’s research shows that the process was anything but smooth sailing for the county, as it pit Arlington directly against the club’s members. Many of them exercise plenty of political influence across the region and the state, and documents show they were able to lean heavily on Northam himself.

“One would expect a Democratic governor to be highly responsive to one of most Democratic jurisdictions in the state,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “But this was a matter of great concern to a bunch of very important people in Virginia, and that may well be the reason why additional efforts were necessary.”

And, looking forward, the bitter fight over the issue could well have big implications should similar legislation ever resurface in Richmond.

“Structurally, this bill could absolutely come back someday,” Cristol said. “And the idea that a bill that has such deleterious consequences for land use and taxation in jurisdictions across Virginia could come back and garner support because of an effective lobbying interest is very much a real threat.”

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Slowly, but surely, restaurants in Ballston Quarter’s food court are opening to diners.

When the development opened up its “Quarter Market” to customers earlier this month, just one restaurant (Mi & Yu Noodle Bar) was open for business. In the days since then, two more have joined the club.

The first was Copa Kitchen and Bar, a Spanish restaurant serving up small plates, flatbreads and sangria from its “sangria garden.”

Copa opened for business last week, according to Ballston Quarter’s social media accounts, and the restaurant space is now adorned with all manner of soccer-themed apparel. Eventually, Copa also plans to offer outdoor seating in the development’s plaza.

Next up was Hot Lola’s, a fast-casual restaurant offering spicy, fried chicken sandwiches. The eatery opened last weekend.

Chef Kevin Tien, who also backed the Petworth restaurant Himitsu, plans to use Sichuan spices to flavor the sandwiches, which should pack plenty of punch. Diners will also be able to order chicken tenders, but those aren’t available on the restaurant’s menu just yet.

Ice Cream Jubilee, a local chain offering exotic ice cream flavors of all kinds, could well be the next shop to open. The stand is mostly set up, and an employee there said the eatery could be ready to serve up scoops as early as next week.

Workers also seem to have made plenty of progress on Turu’s, a restaurant from the creator’s of D.C.’s Timber Pizza Company, though no employees were at the stand Wednesday afternoon.

Nearby, another restaurant backed by Timber Pizza’s owners, the Ballston Service Station, also seems to be nearing an opening.

Details are still scarce about what, exactly, the location will serve up, but a quick glance behind some construction screens revealed what appeared to be a line of beer taps. State records show that the restaurant is asking for a permit to serve both beer and wine at the location.

It’s been a series of false starts for Quarter Market, and the development as a whole, though shops at Ballston Quarter did start opening slowly this fall. A project to build a new pedestrian bridge linking the development to the area’s Metro station via the Ballston Exchange building has also faced some hold-ups.

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Arlington officials could soon approve additional rollbacks to the number of parking spaces required for new apartment developments along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

Right now, the County Board is barred from allowing new developments along certain sections of the corridor if they don’t have at least one parking space for every unit planned for the new building. The Board is now considering removing that restriction, which would specifically impact properties zoned as “R-C” districts.

About 105 properties are currently zoned “R-C,” according to a staff report prepared for the County Board, and they’re generally located around the Ballston, Virginia Square and Courthouse Metro stations.

The Board approved similar reductions to parking minimums for apartment developments along the R-B corridor and in Crystal City and Pentagon City in fall 2017, in a bid to increase walkable and transit-accessible development, and staff suggested that this change would be a logical next step for the county.

“In general, the proposed amendment could potentially facilitate multifamily residential projects in the future and that the amendment would provide the County Board the same flexibility it has when considering modifications to minimum parking ratios in other Commercial/Mixed Use Districts on a case-by-case basis,” staff wrote in the report.

Those 2017 changes generally targeted properties in the immediate vicinity of Metro stations, and the newly targeted “R-C” districts are slightly different.

Staff describes the zones as a “transitional mixed-use zone between higher-density mixed-use areas and lower-density residential areas,” and the county’s zoning map shows that the affected properties tend to sit a block or two away from major arterial roads like Wilson Blvd or Fairfax Drive.

Allowing the Board to approve similarly reduced parking minimums on those areas as well would provide “consistency” with those previous changes, staff argue.

Officials have already relied on the tweaked parking requirements to allow smaller parking garages at developments around popular Metro stations on the R-B corridor. Other cities have even taken the more drastic step of banning parking minimums entirely.

The Board will consider this proposal for the first time at its meeting Saturday (March 16). Members are scheduled to set a Planning Commission hearing on the matter for April 8, then hold a public hearing and vote on April 23.

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Bicyclists in Potomac Yard and Crystal City might’ve noticed some funky new protected bike lanes around town — but some of them won’t be sticking around for long.

The lanes popped up this week to coincide with the “National Bike Summit,” a gathering of cycling activists held at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City.

Some of the protected lanes are located along S. Eads Street in Crystal City, near the road’s intersection with 22nd Street S. They’re part of the “BikeRail” product backed by Minneapolis-based firm Dero, and are a bit sturdier than the plastic poles the county has installed along other protected bike lanes.

The Crystal City Business Improvement District says Dero donated the BikeRails for pilot program purposes, and county staff installed them this week. They may not stay in their current locations, but the county plans to keep them a little longer, at least.

Another bike company sponsoring the conference, Bike Fixation, donated some even more unusual looking lanes for cyclists to try out.

The county set up the wave-shaped barriers along a stretch of S. Potomac Avenue in Potomac Yard, leading up to where the bike conference was held.

Those, however, are merely temporary, according to the League of American Bicyclists (which sponsored the conference). They could be gone as soon as sometime this week.

Photo 1 via @mttrgrs, photos 2 and 3 via @juddlumberjack

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Drivers along a busy stretch of road in Pentagon City could soon need to slow down a bit.

County officials are proposing changing the speed limit along S. Hayes Street as the road runs between Army Navy Drive and 15th Street S. It currently has posted speed limits of 35 and 30 miles per hour along different stretches of the road, but the county could bump that down to 25 miles per hour.

The Crystal City Business Improvement District requested a study of the speed limit along that section of the street, which runs past major developments, including the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and Pentagon Centre, as well as the neighborhood’s Metro station.

Staff wrote in a report for the County Board that the “high volumes of pedestrian crossings and higher density land development” in the area justify bumping down the speed a bit.

Similarly, staff noted that an examination of the last four years worth of crash data for the area suggest that a lower speed might be beneficial for the area.

If the Board approves the change, the county will spend $1,500 to install signs advertising the newly revised speed limit along the road.

The Board is set to consider the issue for the first time at its meeting Saturday (March 16), where members are scheduled to set a public hearing on the matter for April 23. The Board could then approve the change immediately afterward.

Photo via Google Maps

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Residents of an affordable housing complex in Arlington Mill could soon get access to free wi-fi, thanks to the county’s own fiber optic network — but is that legal?

It’s a question that vexes broadband experts and legal observers alike, who see the county potentially running afoul of some restrictive state laws, even though the project happens to be in service of a good cause.

The county’s plans for this “Digital Inclusion Initiative” over at the Arlington Mill Residences have attracted new scrutiny as local officials and a team of independent experts have begun studying the “ConnectArlington” dark fiber network.

That group identified a whole host of problems with the county’s management of the program, which was designed to build on Arlington’s existing fiber network to provide high-speed internet to local businesses. The county already uses the network to link its facilities together, and expanded it in 2015.

The experts did not identify any issues with the Arlington Mill project, specifically, in a report they prepared for county staff, but some members of that “Broadband Advisory Committee” told ARLnow that they harbor deep concerns about it. And a survey of other lawyers specializing in telecommunications policy reveals that it’s entirely unclear whether the project’s structure is actually legal under state law.

Arlington officials and attorneys believe they’re perfectly within the bounds of the law with their efforts, and the county held a community celebration to kick off the installation of some internet equipment last month.

Thus far, county leaders have billed it as a pilot project, which could inform other efforts to connect communities that lack access to low-cost internet. Officials are particularly enthusiastic about its potential to connect students living at Arlington Mill with the internet, closing the “homework gap” and helping kids get online and keep up with their increasingly high tech studies.

But, at the very least, experts fear this means that the county has wandered into a confusing legal gray area that could invite future court challenges.

“They’re doing it for the right reasons, and I don’t fault them for it,” said Chris Rozycki, a member of the county’s Broadband Advisory Committee with 30 years of telecom regulatory experience. “But I think they know they’re tiptoeing onto thin ice here.”

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Ballston Quarter could soon win the county’s approval to install large “media screens” above its public plaza.

The newly renovated Ballston Common mall’s developers, Forest City, have been hoping to construct the new screens ever since the fall. But the company’s lawyers soon realized that the county zoning code wouldn’t allow for the sort of design they envisioned.

Now, the County Board is gearing up to tweak zoning rules ever so slightly to let that construction move ahead. The Board is contemplating changes this weekend that would allow “urban regional shopping centers” like Ballston Quarter to install the screens up to 55 feet off the ground.

“Large media screens are an appropriate tool for use by urban regional shopping centers to create a vibrant sense of place, to enhance outdoor community gathering spaces and to stimulate economic competitiveness,” county staff wrote in a report for the Board. “The signs can infuse increased interest and activity in areas of pedestrian and retail activity at urban regional shopping centers.”

Previously, the county limited such screens to a height of 40 feet off the ground. When Forest City submitted its first round of plans for the screens, the developer and county staff realized the designs called for the screens to be just over 49 feet high.

Accordingly, Forest City asked for a delay in advancing those plans until county officials could come up with a zoning code amendment to allow the higher screens.

The proposed changes would limit the construction of the screens only to shopping malls, and only to those within a quarter-mile of a Metro station or “major bus transfer station.” The Board will also maintain the ultimate discretion to hand out use permits to allow the screens’ installation, and staff write that they could become “one of the most regulated sign types” in all of the county’s zoning code.

The signs will be allowed to display “still, scrolling, or moving images, including video, media broadcasts and animation,” per the report.

The Board will only consider whether to set public hearings on the matter Saturday (March 16). So long as the Board signs off, the Planning Commission will hold an April 8 hearing on the matter, setting up a Board vote on April 23.

If the zoning change passes, Forest City would still need to obtain a use permit to build the screens, so it could be months before shoppers notice them there.

Ballston Quarter has been slowly opening stores to customers since last fall, most recently opening up its new food court for business.

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County officials and representatives from ridesharing companies are planning another community meeting to talk through traffic headaches generated by a staging lot for Uber and Lyft drivers serving Reagan National Airport passengers.

Arlington leaders will convene another gathering on the subject next week — in tandem with Uber, Lyft and airport executives — though they hope they’ve managed to alleviate many of the issues the community raised last fall.

At the time, many people living near the lot (located at 2780 Jefferson Davis Highway in Crystal City, adjacent to S. Eads Street and a Holiday Inn hotel) said the surge of rideshare drivers in the area had snarled traffic in the neighborhood.

Airport officials only started directing drivers over that way to account for National’s massive “Project Journey” construction effort, requiring drivers to wait in the lot until would-be passengers request rides. But, back then, the lot only had one entry/exit to reach S. Eads Street, prompting big traffic backups and encouraging drivers to cut through other parking lots in the area to more easily reach the airport.

The county responded with an “interim” fix designed to make a difference in the short-term — officials opened up another entrance/exit to the lot along Route 1, installing a temporary traffic light to allow drivers to turn onto the road and jump onto an exit ramp leading directly to the airport access road.

Since then, county staff say they’ve recorded a 73 percent drop in the number of cars exiting onto S. Eads Street each day. Officials say they’ve also met with Uber, Lyft and airport executives to discuss additional steps, like “exploring the use of technology and messaging through the [rideshare] apps to reduce the volume of vehicles coming to the lot and seeking additional staging locations to reduce demand.”

The county is also mulling another, more costly change.

Officials are currently exploring the possibility of aligning the lot’s temporary exit onto Route 1 with 27th Street S., which sits directly across from the staging area. That would allow cars from the lot and 27th Street to turn at the same time, perhaps cutting down on wait times at each traffic light.

“Implementation would require relocating a traffic signal pole, replacing [the] temporary traffic signal with a permanent traffic signal pole on Route 1, and reconfiguring the [rideshare] lot to allow proper ingress flow,” county staff wrote on Arlington’s website.

That project comes with a $250,000 price tag and take at least a year to complete — plus, it requires the County Board’s approval.

Staff plan to discuss that option and others at the upcoming meeting. It will be held in the Crystal City Community Room at the Crystal City Shops (2100 Crystal Drive) on March 18, from 6-7:30 p.m.

Photo 1 via Arlington County

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Columbia Pike now has a new top booster.

The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization tapped Kim Klingler as its new executive director, the group announced in a release today (Tuesday).

Klingler steps in for interim director Karen Vasquez, who’d been serving in that role since January.

She took over for Cecilia Cassidy, who stepped down last December after more than two years helming the group.

“We are excited that Kim will be joining CPRO as our new Executive Director,” said CPRO board president John Snyder in a statement. “She brings with her tremendous experience as an Arlington activist and civic leader, as well as business expertise. All will be great assets to our organization.”

More details on Klingler from a press release:

An Arlington resident for 18 years, in a professional capacity, Kim has been a Division Director at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and a Senior Manager at Deloitte Consulting. She has also worked extensively with local organizations and Arlington County, serving as both Chair and Vice Chair for the Arlington Committee of 100, Chair of the Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission, and Co-Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee – Joint Campaign.

Kim’s volunteer work includes the Arlington Free Clinic, Lee Highway Alliance, Arlington County Civic Federation, Arlington Arts Center, Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department, among others. She is also a member of Leadership Arlington, the Arlington County Chamber of Commerce, and was a 2014 Inaugural Honoree of the Arlington “40 Under 40.”

“Columbia Pike is such an amazing place with so much history, diversity, and potential,” said Kim. “I am excited, and feel deeply privileged, to have the opportunity to combine my professional and community leadership skills and experiences in order to continue CPRO’s legacy and further shape Columbia Pike’s future.”

Photo courtesy of CPRO

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Virginia Hospital Center executives celebrated when they finally earned permission to expand the hospital’s North Arlington campus and execute a long-planned land swap with the county — but one of the consequences of the deal has some employees and parents feeling blindsided.

VHC is gearing up to send Arlington its property at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road in Glencarlyn, in exchange for gaining control over a piece of land at 1800 N. Edison Street. The latter property is adjacent to its existing facilities along N. George Mason Drive, and will be a key part of the hospital’s hotly debated expansion plans.

Of course, that’s going to prompt some big changes at the Carlin Springs Road site as the county takes over. Among them is the impending closure of a childcare center that the hospital operated on the property in tandem with Bright Horizons, serving VHC employees and local parents alike.

The daycare facility is now set to close on July 26, according to letters from both VHC and Bright Horizons provided to ARLnow. Though that deadline may be a full four months away, parents with kids at the daycare say they’re now scrambling to find alternative options.

The county is currently facing a childcare crunch, with local leaders currently weighing strategies to bring down the cost of daycare options in Arlington, and VHC parents say those conditions have only exacerbated the shock they felt about the childcare center’s closing.

“I was feeling reassured that finally Arlington realized that there’s more demand than supply when it comes to childcare, and now this happens,” said one parent, who declined to be identified. “It’s ironic that in Arlington, where there’s supposed to be some attention to how challenging it is to find childcare centers, instead of opening a new place we’re closing one of the big ones down and forcing families and employees to figure things out on their own.”

A spokesperson for the hospital would only confirm that the center is closing sometime this year, saying that “the details of the closing are still being worked out,” but otherwise would not comment on the situation.

Mike Malone, VHC’s vice president for administrative services and chief human resources officer, wrote in a letter to parents that it was his “great disappointment” to have to close the center. He said “the county will be repurposing the land on the Carlin Springs campus and demolishing the building,” prompting the closure — VHC leaders previously told ARLnow that the land swap would be finalized by May or June at the latest.

Malone added that Bright Horizons is “committed to helping every current family find care in another Bright Horizons center or [helping] you transition into another center of your choosing.”

In a letter of their own, Bright Horizons executives pointed to the “over two dozen centers spread across the metro area” that the company operates as options for parents. They also noted that they have “resources available to facilitate your child’s transition,” and said they plan to help staff at the center find jobs at other Bright Horizons locations.

Parents at the center told ARLnow that help is appreciated, but they fear it isn’t enough to manage the transition.

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